GENETICALLY MODIFIED maize could soon be grown throughout Europe following a decision by Brussels to add 17 new varieties to the EU‘s common seeds catalogue.

The GMs in question are all derived from the MON 810 strain of maize developed by Monsanto.

This was first approved for cultivation in the EU in 1998.

Since then it has only been listed in the national seed catalogues for Spain, where it has been grown widely, and in France, where it has not been grown at all.

“Once a variety of seed is inscribed in a national catalogue, the commission is informed and is required to inscribe it in the common catalogue,” said a commission statement.

“Seed of varieties in the common catalogue can be marketed in the entire EU.”

Food safety commissioner David Byrne said the inscription of the 17 MON 810 varieties – the first time any GM seeds have been included – was a logical step.

“The maize has been thoroughly assessed to be safe for human health and the environment.

“It has been grown in Spain for years without any known problems.

“It will be clearly labelled to allow farmers a choice.”

But green lobby group Friends of the Earth condemned the decision.

“It will lead to the widespread contamination of Europe‘s food, farming and environment,” said a spokesman.

“Member states must step in where the commission has failed and ban these GM seeds.”

In a separate development, the commission abandoned plans to bring forward proposals on Wednesday (Sept 8) for new thresholds for the accidental contamination of conventional seed with GM seed.

It had hoped to suggest a limit of 0.3%, above which the seed would be labelled GM.

“This has been postponed, pending a further thorough assessment of the economic impact,” said a spokesman.